Before he became the choirmaster with the musical Midas touch, before he was the toast of middle-aged mothers across the land, Gareth Malone picked up cigarette butts off the beach. It was 10 gruelling years before Malone would satisfy his passion for music, and as this instalment of Who Do You Think Are uncovers, the tenacity and the talent (What Gareth amusingly brands the “Ta-dah!” gene) is unsurprisingly part of a plentiful inheritance.
The investigation begins with his great, great grandfather, Edmund Payne, a comic actor who managed to distinguish himself amongst 20,000 contemporaries as “universal favourite”. The esteemed funnyman even performed in King George V’s 1911 coronation gala, and relished a whopping 300 roles over his career. “He was at the top of his game” Gareth proudly notes. “I had a sense that he did alright, but this is fantastic”.
In fact, one of the episode’s most touching moments is when Gareth shows his dear grandfather a rare film of one of Payne’s performances. Family reunions are common spectacle in WDYTYA, but they are rarely this powerful and affecting
However, the most fascinating figure by far is Gareth’s four times great grandfather, Daniel Lowery, who at first Gareth knows only as a Dublin music hall impresario. But as Gareth discovers, Lowery, a weaver’s son, was not simply born into the role. Buoyed by a steely determination, Lowery became a concert singer, and singlehandedly popularised Irish song in the smoky streets of Victorian Liverpool. Gareth is very admiring, saying that “He’s a self-made man, really”. Lowery also overflowed with entrepreneurial spirit, having opened several acclaimed music halls and even tried his hand as a political candidate, albeit a graciously unsuccessful one. “He had the confidence and was able to perform”, concludes Gareth, with more than a pang of pride.
We don’t usually pay much attention to lighting in documentaries, but the wispy cinematography is perfectly suited to a programme which is about the act of losing (Or perhaps finding) ourselves in the past. It’s arguable that is the standardised polish for most of the BBC’s output, but WDYTYA is one of the few that invokes a mood, a feeling of acute nostalgia that’s unlike anything else being broadcast